It gets harder, as I think more about things, to shoot something just because I disagree with it’s lifestyle. It was not so hard to shoot a big blacksnake last summer that was crawling up an oak tree to eat the little bluebirds in a bluebird box I had attached to it. He made me realize that I need to take that box off a tree and put it on a steel post, then keep the post greased so his descendants can’t climb it.
It is easy to shoot the occasional copperhead that ventures too close to my home here on this wilderness hilltop we call Lightnin’ Ridge. As I get older, instead of heading for the lake or river early in the morning, I make a cup of coffee and sit out on my screened porch; looking at the patch of grass and plant life we jokingly refer to as a “yard” or “lawn.”
It is a place for occasional wildflowers and mushrooms, rabbits and all kinds of birds. Some snakes, like the hognose or garter snake or blue-racer, may cross it safely, as do terrapins and a variety of lizards.
The lizards occasionally fall prey to the yellow-billed cuckoos, which us Ozark country folks calls “rain-crows.” Normally I would never shoot a bird in my back yard, but there is one I ought to pick off with my .22 rifle every time I see one… the brown-headed cowbird.
Yesterday, there they were, hopping around in my backyard, beneath the big oaks, a male and a female cowbird of the brown-headed variety. Only the male has the brown head. The female is gray. Though only the male is brown-headed, I think both of them are black-hearted, because they are like so many of us in the Ozarks, they are too lazy to work to provide for their offspring.
That does not include me. I worked hard to make a good life for my offspring without causing difficulty for my neighbors. When my daughters left the nest, they left a nest I had built myself. This cannot be said of the brown-headed, black-hearted cowbird. They build no nest, they find one made by a cardinal or bluejay or mockingbird and kick those eggs out of the nest, laying their own in the nest where returning birds of some other species, will hatch and raise their young for them.
You would think that any bird would be wise to this, but they aren’t, displaying the traits for which we refer to really dumb folks normally found in suburbs of big cities, as “bird-brains.”
At any rate, now that I have made many city people mad at me, let me tell you why I let those brown-head birds venture off on their own to do what they do without being shot.
The male, all black except for his brown head, was following that smaller gray hen around, standing straight and high, then huffing up his feathers to make him look taller and wider than he really is, throwing his brown head forward, making him look hunch-backed and disheveled. That quite often makes the female receptive to mating with him. Who knows why that would be, he looks awful doing that. It didn’t work that day. She was apparently quite hungry and seemed to be trying to get away from him.
He really looked stupid running around on the grass and leaf litter right below my place on the screened porch, huffing up and hunching over. It reminded me that I had often done something similar as a youth, trying to show off my muscles and getting some girl to notice me. It never seemed to work for me any better than it did for him.
Eventually they both flew up on a white-oak branch only a few feet from where I sat drinking my coffee whilst I listened to an old gobbler sounding off down the ridge from my nest… er, I mean “house.”
I could have plugged the two cowbirds with my .22 rifle, but it would mean making a pair of holes in the screen of about 1/5th of an inch, big enough to let in a fly or mosquito later in the summer.
So I left it to the Great Creator to deal them justice for their evil ways. But really it seems as if he has been overlooking a great deal of evil everywhere lately. I may, later this summer, take things into my own hands and shoot their progeny, even if it will upset some mama cardinal or brown thrasher that raised them.
You wonder why God created things like brown-headed cowbirds or copperheads or cockleburs. I guess he had His reasons, and as I see the perfection of His hand in the woods and streams not yet ruined by the hand of man, I feel a lot better than I do sitting on the porch watching some devilish blacksnake trying to eat my baby bluebirds.
Then I begin to think that the blacksnake and I aren’t so much different. I wouldn’t eat a baby rabbit or squirrel for anything, but I would sure eat either one this winter when they are grown up. If the blacksnake waits until everything grows up, he will starve to death.
It likely is best for me not to get into such deep thinking as I sit on the porch and drink coffee. I am fairly sure God didn’t create me for any deep thinking. It is best to get up early and head for the river and try to catch some five- pound, evil-minded largemouth, which might eat a baby wood duck or a whole household of young crawdads in his self-indulgent whims.
I think that is perhaps what God put me on earth for… to stand up for the weak and defenseless, catching evil bass and evil catfish and evil walleye. But the cowbird episode shows me I am getting too old for such purposes, growing too kind-hearted to do what should be done.
However, through this column I might encourage others to keep a shotgun handy and shoot every cowbird and copperhead they see.
In such a manner, I continue to be of some value, straightening out Mother Nature in her misguided ways.
You can read more about the outdoors and nature in my Lightnin Ridge Outdoor magazine’s summer issue. To get a copy of it, call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, who will likely be napping at her desk here in our executive offices on Lightnin’ Ridge. The phone number is 417/777-5227. You may write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BLACKSNAKE – Headed for the nest… this blacksnake has a wicked look in his eye.
COWBIRD – Male brown-headed cowbird.